Language and Mind (Volume 1:) A Western Perspective

Language and Mind (Volume 1:) A Western Perspective

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Item Code: IDK810
Author: R.C. Pradhan
Publisher: Decent Books
Edition: 2006
ISBN: 8186921346
Pages: 350
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 8.8" X 5.8"
From the Jacket

This work is a collection of papers dealing with the problems concerning the relation between language and mind. It focuses on the recent developments in the philosophy of language and mind, particularly with regard to the computational approach defended by fodor and others has changed the very concept of language and mind thus ushering in a new philosophy in recent years. But, not unsurprisingly, there has been a vehement opposition to this approach led by Searle and others which has exposed the limitations of computationalism as a philosophical theory. The controversy regarding language, mind and meaning between the computationalists and their opponents is the main theme of this book. Besides these differing ideologies the book also highlights the general issues regarding meaning, intentionality, necessity, a prioricity, etc. which have an important place in the philosophy of language.

This is the first a two-volume project dealing with language and mind. This book deals exclusively with the Western perspective of the problems of language and mind, while Volume II will deal with the classical Indian approach.

Ramesh C. Pradhan is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Hyderabad. He specializes in Philosophy of Language and Philosophy of Wittgenstein and has written extensively in these areas.


This book is a collection of papers dealing with the problems of language and mind. The thrust of these papers is to highlight the recent developments in philosophy of language and mind in the West. These problems centre around the nature of the relationship between language and mind which is the central focus of cognitive science, artificial intelligence, cognitive psychology and cognitive linguistics. Philosophy of language and mind has been struggling with these problems since time immemorial. From Descartes to Davidson and Jerry Fodor, there has been a continuous struggle to locate mind and language in a close nexus so as to explain the possibility of cognition and communication.

In these papers there is emphasis on the cognitive competence of language – use and related matters of cognitive processing. There is also added emphasis on the nature of mental representations and intentionality, cognitive meaning and computationality, besides the analysis of non-linguistic thoughts.

Language and Mind: the Interface

Contemporary research on the interface of language and mind has revealed that there is a broad consensus on the fact that language and mind are interconnected at a deeper level. Language is not a mere means of communication, nor is thought a mere pre-linguistic mental entity. Thought and language are connected inseparably such that every thought has an echo in language and every linguistic expression has a thought-counterpart. That is to say that we cannot have a structured thought without a structured language and vice versa.

In the debate over whether language is prior to mind or mind is prior to language, there are philosophers who take one side or the other. But the fact of the matter is that there is no way we can escape the fact that every time we think a piece of thought, we are necessarily led to invoice language at least to express the thought or in Frege's words, to grasp the thought. Even if thoughts have an ahistorical existence in a Platonic realm, as Frege advocates, they have to be grasped in a medium which is a logically structured language. There is no denying the fact that language has as pervasive a presence as thought itself so far as their logical structure is concerned. Wittgenstein, Davidson and Dummett endorse the view that language is indispensable for making thoughts intelligible in view of the fact that man is basically a language-using being. To have beliefs and thoughts is to have necessarily a language wherein these beliefs and thoughts are expressed.

It is necessary to admit that language and thought are of the same logical structure as they both have the same logical capacity to represent the world. Thoughts as the representations of the world are necessarily embedded in language which has the same capacity to language is to put the cart before the horse. There can be no thought in the logical sense if there is no language – some language – to embed it. Language is the most primitive system of communication know to man. To think of a pre-linguistic stage of human existence is a misnomer as it posits a stage of human existence which could not be conceived in the absence of language.

It will therefore be justified to contend that the non-linguistic thoughts are a mere abstraction from the actual situation of thoughts being linguistically grounded and conditioned. The counter-example of the animals and the infants having thoughts without language does not cut much ice because there are no thoughts worth the name which we ascribe to animals and infants. It is only by extension of our thoughts that we ascribe thoughts to animals and the human infants. It is, however, not denied that animals communicate and have an evolved form of sign-language that helps them survive. Thus that animals and human infants have some rudimentary capacity for thinking and planning cannot be denied.

In this connection, it is worthwhile to mention the cognitive scientific discoveries regarding the innate capacities of cognition embedded in the human brain. The natural language processing and the information processing which the human brain undertakes give ample evidence of the fact that human mind / brain has an embedded language or grammar to facilitate the information processing. Fodor and Chomsky have done well to draw our attention to this fact in their Language of Thought Hypothesis and the Innate Universal Grammar, respectively. Fodor's idea is that the cognitive architecture of the human mind is embedded in a Language of Thought (LOT) which is a system of cognitive functions and symbols called the Mentalese. This language very different from the natural language is a unique system of symbols which cannot be replaced by the natural symbols system. It is innate to the cognitive mind with an evolved cognitive architecture. Chomsky's Universal Grammar reemphasizes the fact that the grammatical rules which regulate the function of the symbols are genetically embedded in the mind / brain. This explains how human being are competent to use natural languages which follow the innate rules of the Universal Grammar.

Necessity and Contingency in Language

In this context the problem of necessity in grammar is very pertinent because language is embedded in a system of necessary rules of grammar. That language is a rule-governed system of symbols cannot be denied. But there cannot be any regularity in language if there were no necessary grammatical rules in the operation of symbols. This requires a logical syntax of language which specifies the rules of grammar. This has been well argued by Frege, Chomsky and Fodor in different ways. While Frege makes syntax the basic structure of language in general, Fodor makes it the mainstay of the computational language which is the Language of Thought. The paradigm of computational language is the model language that Fodor suggests for the natural languages to emulate. Chomsky makes the syntax the Universal Grammar on which all natural languages are based and from which they are derived. Thus they espouse the necessity of the grammatical structures underlying languages.

Richard Rorty and many others believe that language has no necessity of any type so that we cannot give any account of their so-called regularity and normativity. Rorty maintains that language is a contingent system of symbols which accidentally develops in the human community. The linguistic community is the source of the conventions and rules of language. These conventions arise in response to the need of the community and hence there is no a priori necessity about them. This argument for the contingency of language emphasizes the fact that language has no centre or central structure that can have it hinged on a firm foundation. There is no foundation of language except the linguistic conventions evolved by the human community. This foundation is the human solidarity that is a natural product of the human evolution in nature.

Now the question arises, How can there be contingency in language without there being necessity which cannot be bargained away by the human community? Can the human community evolve a language without following rules? If there are rules which regulate language-use, can these rules themselves be made by the community? In order to avoid an infinite regress, we must admit a bedrock of language that sustains the regularity and normativity of language. Mere contingency is not enough, there is something more to language than we can see on the surface. If we are in search of a cognitive architecture, we need a foundational source of this architecture. That source cannot but be necessary so far as language is concerned.

The cognitive processes underlying use of language do need a rule-bound architecture. That is the reason why Fodor has emphasized the necessity of a computational mechanism that accounts for the universality and the necessity of the rule-structure. Computational psychology espouses the need of necessity in language thus throwing open the possibility of a necessitarian model of grammar or logical syntax. The contingential model of grammar does not account for the primary of the rules in language and the cognitive processes undertaken by the human mind.

Intentionality of the Cognitive and the Linguistic Structures

The phenomenon of intentionality has been a significant indicator of inner structure of language and mind. Both language and mind have intentional structures which account for their not only being about the world, but also their being meaningful structures. Intentionality is associated with meaning in the sense that all that language and mind have as contents are meaning-embedded. The contents of the mental acts and the linguistic acts are the thoughts which are the objects of the beliefs and belief-expressions. The linguistic acts as well as the mental acts are intentional for the reason that they are directed at the thoughts or propositions. There is a world-directedness which characterizes these acts.

Intentionality is not a natural property in the way the brain process is a natural event. It is a normative property of how language and mind are related to the world. Though Searle believes that intentionality is a biological phenomenon, it is not the case that biology alone can explain the intentional mental phenomena. Intentionality itself is supervenient on the brain process without being reducible to the latter. Intentionality brings in meaning into language because without it the linguistic symbols cannot be taken as meaningful. Searle is right in telling us that mere syntax of language is not enough. His Chinese Room experiment shows that even if a machine can operate symbols because it has no intentionality. Thus intentionality is a semantic feature of language and mind and hence has to be given a normative status.

The tendency to naturalize intentionality as it has been found in Drestke and Dennett is not always successful because there is always a gap between the intentional process as a brain process and the intentional character of the mental phenomena because the latter is a normative property while the former is a physical event. We cannot confuse the two. The natural physical order of things does not contain the intentional meaning of the symbols. The latter is an additional feature of the linguistic expressions. It can be protected only as a normative entity.

The intentional realists are right in holding that the intentional mental phenomena are real in addition to the natural process of the brain. No brain science can explain how intentional experience is possible. Intentional experience is part of the human cognitive process. Fodor is right in recognizing that mental activities, though computational in nature, are intentional in character. This goes to prove that mental activities are intentional even if they appear to be mechanical. Dennett's contention that there is only an "intentional stance" and not intentionality proper is not sufficient to explain why there should be intentionality at all. The intentional stance is a pragmatic notion which needs a basis in the nature of the mind itself. Thus a defence of intentional realism is possible against intentional instrumentalism.

Meaning in the Mind

Intentionality prepares the ground for making meaning mental in view of the fact that the mental processes account for the meaning of the expressions which represent them. The mental representations constitute the broad spectrum of the mental activities which cry for meaning and other semantic properties like the linguistic representations. Both the mental and the linguistic representations constitute a single block for semantic treatment and for semantic evaluation. Meaning therefore qualifies for being an entity "in the head."

Philosophy of mind inspired by the later Wittgenstein and Ryle discouraged the idea that meanings are in the mind and that there are no such meanings like the mental contents to be deciphered by introspection. But this theory has been but aside by the recent philosophers of mind who espouse the idea that meaning is a mental content and that it can be traced back to the mind underlying language. Searle, Fodor and many other mentalists argue that meanings are "in the head" and that they are part of the mental contents. Meaning and contents have been brought together and so there is the claim that where there is meaning originates in the mind and spreads to language and the world. This gives a new lease of life to the theory that mind is real and that it is the seat of all semantic powers of language.

The theory of narrow contents has been the best candidate for the semantic theory explaining meaning. Fodor provides a robust account of how the narrow contents individuate meaning in the mind. The new psychosemantic theory goes to the extent of saying that meanings as the narrow contents are both psychological and semantic in character. As psychological entities they are part of the mental processes which are computational and representational in character; as semantic they are evaluable in the context of their relation to the world. The wide contents are world-directed and hence have a direct semantic relation to the world. The narrow contents do not have a direct relation to the world so have to be indirectly semantic by being dependent on the wide contents.

Fodor's objections to meaning holism are based on his theory of narrow contents which shows that the narrow contents are individualistic and are not liaisoned with other contents. His attack on meaning holism is aimed at those who believe that contents are interconnected and are given in a package. He believes that meanings cannot be packaged together in any relevant sense as they are part of the mental representations which work piece-meal and not in a cluster. Putnam, on the contrary, shows that meanings come as wholes or packages since they are integrated into systems of wide contents and are hooked onto the world. His argument is that meaning holism follows precisely from the fact that meanings are widely diffused over the vast canvas of language which is linked with the world. Under the circumstances, it is necessary that both mental contents and meanings should be taken as holistic rather than individualistic.


1.Pain in the Neck of a Theory of Meaning18
- Bijoy H Boruah
2.Thinking Without Words: A Possibility Or a Myth?45
- Amita Chatterjee
3.The Sentence in Computation and Cognitive Science86
- Tista Bagchi
4.The Nature of Mental Representation: Classicism versus Connectionism102
- V. Harinarayanan and C.A. Tomy
5.Fodorian Understanding of Folk Psychology and Computational Theory of Mind: An Analysis124
- S. Panneerselvam
6.Mind and Language: Their Inter-Dependence144
- P.R. Bhat
7.Reason and Language: An Appraisal of Richard Rorty's Pragmatic-Post-modern Approach167
- N. Sreekumar
8.Naturalizing Intentionality: A Searlean Critique189
- Ranjan K. Panda
9.Fodor on Meaning Holism: Why Narrow Contents do not Promise for a Meaning Theory220
- R.C. Pradhan
10.Meaning and Mental Mechanism: A Critique252
- Amitabha Dasgupta
11.Kant, Kripke Reading of A-Priori307
- Rakesh Chandra
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